Editor’s note: This content is archival.
Number 24 and 25, November 1997/February 1998
A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
With support from the Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
- Newsletter News
- News Items
- Book Reviews
- Totemihuacán: Su Historia y Vida Actual. By Eileen
de la Torre Mulhare. Review by Hugo G. Nutini, University of Pittsburgh.
- Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500-1700. By
Susan Kellogg. Review by Doris Heyden, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e
- Pueblos indígenas ante el derecho. Edited by
Victoria Chenault and María Teresa Sierra. México. Review by Susan
Kellogg, University of Houston.
- The Essential Codex Mendoza. By Frances F. Berdan and
Patricia Rieff Anawalt. Review by Frederic Hicks, University of Louisville.
- Twin City Tales: A Hermeneutical Reassessment of Tula and
Chichén Itzá. By Lindsay Jones. Review by Jay E. Silverstein,
Pennsylvania State University.
- Nuestro pesar, nuestra aflicción = Tunetuliniliz,
tucucuca: Memorias en lengua náhuatl enviadas a Felipe II por indígenas
del Valle de Guatemala hacia 1572. Edited and introduced by Christopher H. Lutz,
transcribed, translated, and with commentary by Karen Dakin. Review by Susan
Schroeder, Loyola University Chicago.
- Historia de los pueblos indígenas de México.
By Felipe Castro. Review by Richard Bradley, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Directory Update
Welcome once again to the Nahua Newsletter, your stress-free entry into the world of
scholarship on the culture, history, and language of Nahuatl-speaking peoples. This
issue completes twelve years of publishing the NN, a period of time that has seen a
dramatic increase in numbers of publications related to Nahuas and in the number of
scholars and students from all over the world who are devoting themselves to Nahua
studies. Every month brings new and significant publications, many of which are
translations with interpretive commentary on the great 16th-century works that form the
basis of much of our understanding of Nahua history. These priceless records document
the aftermath of one of the greatest cataclysms in world history. The period between
the 16th- and 20th-centuries is also being examined and written about by an increasing
number of scholars. Finally, ethnographers, including your editor, are working to
document contemporary Nahua culture.
It sometimes surprises people new to Mesoamerican studies that the Nahuas and
numerous other indigenous groups did not disappear following the Conquest. In fact, it
comes as a shock to some that there are millions of people in Mesoamerica today who
speak indigenous languages and continue to follow a lifestyle that owes much to
pre-Hispanic traditions. Obviously no group could escape the aftermath of the Conquest,
with its attendant disastrous population decline and the nearly half-millennium that
has intervened. But I can report with confidence that Nahua culture survives and
continues to exhibit an adaptability that allows it to meet the challenges of a rapidly
I write these lines from Xalapa, Veracruz, my field headquarters for the next year
while I continue ethnographic research among Nahuas of northern Veracruz. I have been
returning to the same village since the early 1970s to provide long-term documentation
of changes in a single remote community. When I first entered this community in the
summer of 1970, it was about 80 miles from the nearest paved road and almost 100 miles
from the nearest Mexican settlement of any size (the small coastal town of Tuxpan). In
the last few years, thanks largely to Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company, a paved
road now reaches within about three miles of the village. In 1990, it took two hard
days to reach the village from Xalapa; two days ago, I made the trip in one long day. I
was surprised at the numerous changes that have occurred since my last long-term stay
in the community during 1990. For example, housing styles have become more “modern”
with increasing investment in cement-block construction in place of thatched-roof style
houses, school opportunities have expanded significantly, television has invaded nearly
every household, clothing styles have continued to change with the usual corporate
sports logos evident everywhere, and for the first time in history, there is a
telephone in the village. One aspect of my project this year is to determine how and
why such changes have occurred.
One purpose of writing about my current research is to explain that for this
upcoming year there will be some changes in the NN. As most readers already know, the
NN is usually issued twice a year, in the heart of the academic calendar. Because of
the difficulties of overseeing production from afar, the November 1997 issue (#24) will
be combined with the February 1998 issue (#25). The change is not permanent but is
instead a temporary accommodation to the necessity of being out of the country for
field research. We will return to publishing twice yearly beginning with the November
1998 issue. There are also slight changes in format you may notice, such as the
different binding technique we have used for this issue. This change is the result of
suggestions by the printer who produces the NN. The new binding method will cut down on
errors and reduce production costs.
Because your editor has been in Mexico since late summer, you might ask how it has
been possible to produce this issue of the NN. The answer is that a loyal subscriber,
Samantha Birk, has agreed to oversee the sometimes complicated task of printing and
mailing this combined issue. Samantha is Curator of Education of the Fort Wayne Museum
of Art, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a faculty member in the Indiana University-Purdue
University Fort Wayne Department of Fine and Performing Arts. She is interested in the
arts and has a special expertise in Africa and Mesoamerica, and has also had some
archaeological experience in Belize. Thanks to her dedication to Nahua studies and to
the fate of the newsletter, she has been designated Honorary Managing Editor of the NN.
Readers owe Samantha a vote of thanks for volunteering her efforts on their behalf.
Interest continues to grow in the NN and we add new subscribers with every issue
(see the Directory Update section). The NN is sent free of charge to interested parties
although donations are gratefully received. Our accounts are getting low at this point
and we will need funds to carry forward the work of the newsletter. We are continuing
to try to find an institutional home for the NN that would include a permanent budget
line but so far this goal remains elusive. University budgets are tight despite the
supposedly booming U.S. economy. Please send checks made out to “The Nahua Newsletter”
to the address below and the money will be deposited in the special NN account. All
money is applied to printing and mailing expenses there are absolutely no
Readers sometimes ask what an appropriate donation might be. That is a difficult
question to answer. Donations have ranged from $5 to $100 with the average being about
$20. We have managed to put out two newsletters a year for twelve years now, based
mainly on donations from readers supplemented by a few small grants. Let’s work
together to keep the NN a focus for Nahua studies.
The NN is published strictly to facilitate communication among scholars and students
and to create a sense of common purpose and community among the international group of
people interested in Nahua studies. Please send news of your present work and calls for
cooperation to the editor so that others with similar interests will know of your
activities. Announcements are also welcome, particularly of new publications. It is a
great help if authors report on articles that they have recently published. Nahua
studies represents a number of different disciplines whose professional literatures do
not always overlap and in this age of information (i.e., publication) explosion it is
difficult for individuals to keep up with recent works in the field. So increase your
readership and advertise your work in the NN. Any help you can provide colleagues will
be greatly appreciated.
Please continue to send all correspondence to the following address. Letters will be
forwarded to me in Mexico, but please expect a delay in receiving a response.
Good luck to everyone, and please keep in touch. We will be back next fall with
another edition of the NN.
(1) Louise Burkhart has received a Guggenheim Fellowship to support research on a
project entitled “The Virgin Mary in Early Nahuatl Literature.” The fellowship will
allow her, in combination with a sabbatical leave, to take a full year away from
teaching beginning in the fall of 1998. Congratulations to Louise.
Also, Louise writes in response to Gordon Brotherston’s review appearing in NN #23
that Nahuatl texts are available for her new book Holy Wednesday: A Nahuatl Drama from
Early Colonial Mexico. She includes the following from the catalog listing: “An
electronic edition of the Nahuatl-language original of its Spanish model, Ausías
Izquierdo of Valencia’s Lucero de Nuestra Salvación, is available as a
supplement to the print edition. The texts are available on a 3.5″ disk in Adobe
Acrobat format, for both IBM and Macintosh platforms.” Interested readers can obtain
the disk by contacting the University of Pennsylvania Press.
(2) Frances Karttunen has written, “During the academic year 1997-98, I will be
Bicentennial Professor of North American Studies at the University of Helsinki. One of
the courses I plan to teach is “Languages of North America: Indigenous and Immigrant,”
and I will include Mesoamerica in the definition of North America. I also hope to
organize an intensive Nahuatl-language course in the late spring/early summer of 1998
and would appreciate hearing from people interested in participating. My address from
mid-August 1997 is: Renvall Institute, P.O. Box 59, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki,
Finland. My current e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I will arrange for
e-mail forwarding from Texas, and I will also post my University of Helsinki e-mail
address in Nahuat-L.
(3) Alan Sandstrom has received a supplemental grant from the American Philosophical
Society to support ethnographic fieldwork among Nahuas of northern Veracruz, Mexico.
The project represents a continuation of research over a 25-year period and is entitled
“Milpa Horticulture and the Transformation of the Mexican Economy.”
(4) In our never-ending search to aid scholars and students in Nahua studies, we
want to inform readers of an opportunity to obtain research materials from Mexico.
Julio de Keijzer and Ana Maria Mariscal, geographers living in Xalapa, Veracruz, own a
shop in the city called GEOCARTA that stocks maps and a great variety of publications
of potential interest to NN readers. They have a wonderful selection of items,
including topographic maps and aerial photographs of all localities in Mexico, plus
current publications of the major academic and governmental presses. These resources,
which are often very difficult to obtain outside of Mexico, will be of value to
anthropologists, geographers, archaeologists, linguists, historians, folklorists, and
anyone with an interest in Mesoamerica. They maintain a list of in-print items from the
following publishers and will mail it to interested parties for a nominal fee. Readers
can direct order listed materials from Julio and Ana, who will act as agents to insure
that customers receive what they order.
Map offerings from GEOCARTA:
1. Topographic maps of Mexico, scale 1:50,000 (Note: maps sent through the mail will
arrive folded.) See note below on ordering maps by latitudinal and longitudinal
2. Full-color road maps of Mexico, covering the entire country or by individual state,
published in book format by Guia Roji, or fold-out format from additional
3. Atlas geográfico del estado de Veracruz, 1992; 80 pages of full-color maps in
book format, published by the state government.
Aerial photographs of Mexico:
Publication dates of the maps range from the 1980s to the present. A minimum of 40
working days is required to fulfill aerial photograph orders.
1. Four scales available: 1:20,000, 1:37,500, 1:50,000, and 1:75,000.
2. 1 x 1-meter blow-ups of aerial photographs also available.
Note: All maps and aerial photographs must be ordered using latitude and longitude
measurements. The more precise the latitude and longitude figures (where possible
specifying degrees and minutes), the less likely that an error will be made in the map
order. GEOCARTA recommends that readers use a standard reference such as the readily
available U.S. Department of Commerce navigational charts (scale 1:1,000,000) to
determine the exact coordinates of the area in which they are interested.
GEOCARTA offers NN readers access to books produced in Mexico by a number of
well-known publishers. Books, as well as some journals and multimedia products, are
available from the following publishers:
1. Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología
2. Colégio de México.
3. Consejo Nacional de Arte y Cultura (CONACULTA), including works in their Presencias
and Regiones series.
4. Fondo de Cultura Económica (FCE).
5. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).
6. Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geográfica, e Informatica (INEGI),
including census data in several series: Población y Vivienda, Ejidal,
Económica, Agropecuária y Forestal, and Comercial y Servicios.
7. Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI).
8. Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP).
9. Sierra Madre, publishing books and CD-ROM materials on flora and fauna of
10. Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (UNAM).
11. Universidad Veracruzana.
Please send a check or money order for U.S. $4.00 to receive a price list of
offerings. The price list includes only books and other materials that are available
for purchase in the general areas of interest of NN readers. Books that go out of print
are eliminated from the list on a regular basis. Prices and shipping/handling costs are
quoted in U.S. dollars, payable by money order. Send requests (in Spanish, English,
French, Dutch, or Swedish) for the price list, orders, or other inquiries to: Ana
María Mariscal / GEOCARTA, Ursulo Galván No. 160-B, Colonia Centro,
Xalapa, Veracruz 91000 MEXICO.
Totemihuacán: Su Historia y Vida Actual. By Eileen de la Torre Mulhare. Puebla: Secretaría de Cultura, Gobierno del Estado de Puebla, 1995. Pp. 1+173. $14.00 (paper).
This publication is a welcome contribution to the ethnography of the
Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley. Eileen Mulhare began doing research in Totimehuacán in
1978 and she has accumulated more than three years of fieldwork in this community. The
result of this work is a vast and thorough corpus of data covering every ethnographic
domain. The monograph under review is only the tip of the iceberg of Eileen’s superb
ethnography, which one hopes will soon see the light of publication. I can say this
with authority, for I supervised from 1978 to 1981 Eileen’s early, intensive
data-gathering period of research.
The monograph was written in Spanish for a local audience, as a courtesy to her
informants in Totimehuacán as well as an informative report for interested
scholars in nearby Puebla, the capital of the state. I find this a very appropriate
thing to do, which should be practiced more often by anthropologists. The monograph is
divided into three extended chapters designed to give a general account of the
ethnohistory and contemporary ethnography of the community.
Chapter 1 presents the physical and demographic parameters of Totimehuacán,
including its population, territorial organization, topography, and natural resources.
It is an outline that places the community in the natural and cultural environment of
the central part of the state of Puebla.
Chapter 2 is the most detailed and useful for ethnologists working in the Nahua
areas of Central Mexico. It describes the ethnohistory of the community from
pre-Classic times to the present. The pre-Hispanic existence of Totimehuacán,
first as a settlement, and then as an important principality (señorio) during
the historic period (1200-1519) is well attested archaeologically and historically. In
fact, Totimehuacán played an important role as one of the main principalities in
the history of the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley before and after the arrival of the
Teo-Chichimecas, the Nahuatl-speaking peoples who settled in the valley at the
beginning of the 13th century. The colonial and republican ethnohistory of the
community (1519-1993) is ably described, particularly the changes that it has undergone
since the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
The third chapter of the book deals with the contemporary situation. It describes
the economic bases of the community (agricultural and industrial activities), its
material culture (housing, dress, and diet), and includes an outline of the political
organization and other civic associations of Totimehuacán. The monograph also
includes four maps that place the community in the economic, administrative, and
territorial context of the region, as well as several charts on demographic,
administrative, and religious matters.
Eileen’s present monograph may be regarded as a preview of things to come. On the
one hand, a comprehensive ethnography of the community, an account of the
industrialization of the southern part of the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley, and how the
region has changed since the Revolution of 1910. On the other hand, and theoretically
more significant, her description and analysis of occupational choice among
Totimehuacán women is an excellent study of women as rational decision makers,
seeking to maximize their permanent income through human capital investment, marriage,
and paid employment. This study details some of the consequences of social change, and
suggests directions for future research. Eileen’s work is extremely important for
understanding the role of women in rapidly changing milieus. I, for one, am eagerly
awaiting the publication of this excellent corpus of data.
Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500-1700. By Susan Kellogg. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Pp. xxxiii+285. ISBN: 0-8061-2702-3 (cloth).
This extraordinary book takes the reader through the Mexico-Tenochtitlan of the
early post-Conquest period via Mexica Indian law and the Spanish courts. Concentrating
on the role Spanish law played in numerous aspects of daily life, Susan Kellogg
examines the life of the macehual and the average citizen during the first two
centuries of colonial rule. She traces the impact of law on gender relations, behavior
patterns, family and kinship organization, property ownership and transmission all, in
fact, domains of cultural transformation experienced by most Indian peoples residing in
Tenochtitlan, and later, Mexico City, during the period specified in the book’s
Kellogg contrasts the pre-Conquest city of Tenochtitlan, whose beauty, organization,
and pulicia or “good government” amazed the Spanish conquerors (witness, for example,
Diaz del Castillo’s and Cortés’ enthusiastic descriptions), and the situation a
few years later when the conquerors had destroyed extensive parts of this splendor and
had built a new city atop the ruins. Nevertheless, Kellogg emphasizes “a process of
cultural transformation in which Indians drew on both pre-Hispanic traditions and
practices and Spanish values and practices to create a new cultural synthesis” (p.
xxii). Central in this book is the role that law played in the process of destruction
and reconstruction (p. xxvi).
This work is the result of Kellogg’s research in archives in Mexico, Spain, and the
United States. The documents consulted are both in Spanish and Nahuatl, and include 73
lawsuits heard in Mexico City’s Real Audiencia between 1536 and 1700. The book is
divided into two parts: Part One, Sources and Legal Texts, which covers “Actors in the
archives” (pp. 3-36), and “Social dramas as narratives” (pp. 37-82). In Part Two, The
Social History of Everyday Life, the author discusses “Law and the transformation of
women’s roles,” “Wills, property, and people,” and “Law and changing family structure”
Kellogg begins by stating that although the Mexica population of Tenochtitlan and
Tlatelolco have often been treated as exotic and unique, she sees them instead as a
people who fashioned a fascinating society, “one that is comprehensible in the context
of Mesoamerican and North American indigenous societies but with its own particular
characteristics” (p. xiii). Because the theme of this book is law, it is interesting to
see how the Mexican Indians used law to challenge Spanish policy and, at times, even
won important legal victories over Spanish officials, individuals, and institutions (p.
xxiv). While the Mexicans in pre-Hispanic times did have a formal judicial system and
courts of law, social control relied heavily on family organization, ward officials,
craft groups, and even on supernatural sanctions for behavior. Regarding property
rights, before the Conquest and even afterwards, ownership of property was based on
grants from tlatoque or caciques and by the use of pictorial documents. These
manuscripts were honored as legal documents but it is natural that the legal system was
transformed as Spain imposed new legal institutions on top of local-level ones (p.
Viewing the court records of the Real Audiencia as a valuable source of information
about the social and cultural history of the indigenous peoples of early colonial
central Mexico, Kellogg finds that these documents reveal a series of fundamental
transformations in Indian society between the 16th and 18th centuries, which included
shifts in gender roles, property ownership, and kinship and family structure aspects
formerly inadequately appreciated. She portrays the human side of law, and while
anthropologists, ethnohistorians, and social historians have viewed law as “a system of
rules, a means of conflict resolution, a system of social control, a form of rhetoric
and argument, and a repository of factual information,” the author has a different
perspective. Kellogg sees law as “an arena of cultural conflict in which changing
concepts of family, gender, and property were contested” (pp. 3,4). She emphasizes the
creation of cultural transformation in which both pre-Hispanic traditions and practices
and Spanish values and traditions were taken into account by the Indians.
Kellogg interprets lawsuits (recorded in both Nahuatl and Spanish) as social drama,
with the Real Audiencia (high court) as the stage and the participants in lawsuits as
the cast of players; these are the judges, the lawyers, litigants, and witnesses (pp.
11-33). In the first chapter, the author gives some interesting examples of lawsuits in
which Indians were litigants and witnesses, although Spanish and Indian officials
played significant roles. Kellogg explains the role of the highly respected oidores
(civil judges in the Real Audiencia) who came originally from Spain, held the highest
degree in law, and had years of legal experience. Kellogg points out, however, that
Indian litigants rarely relied on lawyers but simply made statements before scribes and
submitted their pleas to Spanish or Indian officials (p. 13). Indians usually retained
lawyers of a middle status, called procuradores, who had less legal training than
abogados, lawyers who studied law formally and who had been admitted to practice before
the Audiencia or court, which also was the advisory body to the viceroy (p. 21).
During the years immediately following the Conquest, many Mexica took their cases to
local Indian officials before going to the Real Audiencia. These indigenous officials
had access to texts in Nahuatl that detailed Spanish rules about their investigations
and how they were to conduct them. Yet many Indian officials continued to make judicial
decisions based on local and customary practices (p. 22). Kellogg states that “during
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, elite status was a strong predictor of success
in lawsuits” (p. 29) and that elite Indians when pitted against non-elites won seven of
ten suits with decisions. At one point it was even claimed that the legal system was
biased against the Spaniards. Many of the cases tried (it seems they were the majority)
dealt with land claims. Numerous property owners had no written deed to the land
because much ownership was traced to family ties, although in pre-Hispanic and early
colonial times tlacuilos (“scribes”) kept pictorial records. We recognize some of these
as the Techialoyan codices, executed specifically as land claims based on family
genealogies. These were produced mainly in the 17th century in what is today the state
The author presents many legal cases as dramas, all frequently involving actors with
Nahuatl names such as Quauhtli, Xocotzin, Tenoch, Coatl, Coyotl, Macuil, Tiacapan,
Cahualiztla, and others (pp. 16-17). Many of the cases were decided in favor of women.
In fact, Kellogg discusses at length “gender parallelism” in pre-Hispanic times, when
men and women held complementary positions in many spheres with the exception of top
positions in the fields of politics, economy, and religion. After the Conquest,
however, the Spanish legal system as well as Christian ideology made many changes in
women’s rights. After 1650, women were frequently represented by their husbands and
“women had been reduced to the status of legal minors” (pp. 31-33).
An entire chapter is dedicated to “Law and the transformation of women’s roles” (pp.
85-104). This revealing section is the introduction to Part Two, “The social history of
everyday life.” Kellogg bases her text on careful analysis of the colonial chronicles,
on court cases, and on wills. In this social history the author describes everyday but
revealing actions in pre-Hispanic Mexico, such as the burial of the umbilical cord of a
newborn infant. The umbilicus of a baby girl was buried within the household near the
hearth, while that of the boy as sent to be buried on a battlefield. The place of the
burial of the umbilical cord is seen as symbolic in the roles of males and females and
in the realms in which the primary activities were most fully expressed. Objects given
to the child during birth-related rites also identified the occupations to which the
infant was expected to dedicate himself or herself later in life. These included
miniature weapons for males of elite families, work implements for the non-elite, and
spinning and weaving miniatures for girls of all classes (pp. 89-90). The roles of
males and females are then described throughout their life cycles.
The Spanish Conquest naturally caused many changes in the lives of the native
Mexicans. It may surprise us to know that from about the 1530s to the 1580s, Nahua
women’s status rose, mainly in urban areas. Inasmuch as women outnumbered men in this
period, women often held positions of authority within households, kin groups, and
political units. And for a short time, a “highly malleable law and legal system
reinforced women’s autonomy” (p. 104). Spanish law changed the lives of the Mexica and
other people of the country. The author provides many illustrations of how law and
gender played prominent parts in this transformation. For example, control of the large
markets in Mexico City, formerly held by both males and females, passed from Mexica to
Spanish hands. The paternalistic and protective attitude toward Indians disappeared as
emphasis was placed on legal procedures and technicalities. Indians did use the courts
as a form of defense against injustices, although before 1585, pre-Conquest custom
possessed moral authority and after this date it was rarely invoked. Nevertheless, the
Mexica still won many lawsuits, but little by little they relied upon the use of
Spanish legal concepts (p. 107).
In Chapters 4 and 5, Kellogg discusses the effect on the people of the new custom of
writing wills and the way this influenced families and individuals. “Law and a changing
family structure” gives a thorough discussion of this theme. In pre-Conquest society,
kinship groups played a critical role in economic activity, ritual life, and activities
involving property rights. Extended kin ties soon lost much importance while the
nuclear family acquired some, and these changes affected family relations and ties to
the social world. Cases exemplifying these changes are shown through language (the
shifting definitions of certain Nahuatl terms), in specific legal cases, and in a
discussion of Tenochcan-Mexica family life (pp. 168-80).
The book explains how Spanish law in the early post-Conquest period had a profound
effect on the daily life of the people of Tenochtitlan/Mexico City, and how this law
served as an instrument of cultural transformation and adaptation in the lives of the
indigenous population. In her conclusions, Kellogg contrasts the violent resistance in
some areas of the native population against Spanish authorities and their Indian
collaborators, principally evident in the Maya area and in the Andes, with the
adjustment carried out in Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Clearly, at times there was rebellion,
often violent, but in the former Mexica capital it was more a “complex, uneven process
of cultural accommodation and negotiation.” Kellogg is conscious of the risks of being
interpreted as implying that the Indian population collaborated in its own
subordination, an implication that would be false. It was true, however, that a strong
Spanish presence “succeeded in establishing successful mechanisms for channeling and
neutralizing Indian resistance.” The author does not overlook the devastating
demographic upheavals after the Conquest, the impact of Spanish evangelization, and the
imposition of a new legal system (pp. 211-13). But she states that Spain’s success in
the Valley of Mexico in establishing a legal system served to channel and diffuse Nahua
discontent and altered cultural beliefs and behavior. Kellogg argues that this system
has been a largely ignored factor in the Conquest.
There is such a wealth of material here that it is difficult to choose the richest
parts. The author’s achievement in discussing the many aspects of life, law, and the
social history of the Mexica is impressive. The interesting text, never dull, is
supplemented by a map, a glossary, 10 tables on wills, and 17 genealogical diagrams.
Laws and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500-1700 is an important contribution to
our knowledge of pre- and post-Conquest life of the ordinary citizen of
Pueblos indígenas ante el derecho. Edited by Victoria Chenault and María Teresa Sierra. México: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 1995. Pp. i+370. ISBN 968-496-300-0.
This 1995 edited volume is composed of papers presented at the 1992 Veracruz
conference, “Orden jurídico y formas de control social en el medio
indígena.” Its publication reflects a growing interest in what has been,
heretofore, an understudied aspect of Mexico’s indigenous peoples and cultures, namely
their legal systems and customary forms of social control, and other local, state, and
national legal systems with which indigenous communities interact.
Part 1 of the volume consists of a very effective summary by Jane Collier of both
the major schools of thought among legal anthropologists and important works in Mexican
legal anthropology. As part of her literature survey, she traces her own intellectual
development and changing theoretical orientations. Collier’s essay is thorough and
clearly written, making worthwhile reading for anyone interested in this general
Part 2 is entitled “Conflicto, control social y poder en las dinámicas
jurídicas.” The six essays constituting this section describe both the way
indigenous communities’ legal systems are integrated into those of the Mexican nation
as well as juridical norms and practices of social control among contemporary
communities, especially Nahua, Huichol, and various Huastecan indigenous groupings.
Each essay offers valuable ethnographic data but as a whole I found this section the
least compelling of the book because of the lack of attention to historical and
material processes underlying the increasingly complex interactions among actors and
institutions with which indigenous communities must interact. (I do note, however, one
article with a historical focus in this section, Victoria Chenault’s essay, “Orden
jurídico y comunidad indígena en el Porfiriato.”)
Part 3, “Orden jurídico, legislación y derechos indígenas,” is
the most valuable and thought-provoking section of this book. Each essay takes up an
important aspect of contemporary political, economic, or social change and considers
the legal implications of these changes for indigenous communities. María
Magdalena Gómez Rivera’s article, “Las cuentas pendientes de la diversidad
jurídica: El caso de la expulsiones de indígenas por supuestos motivos
religiosos en Chiapas, México,” deals with a region of great current interest.
It elucidates brilliantly the competing and conflicting legal discourses produced by
diverse actors involved in efforts to deal with indigenous communities’ expulsions of
evangelical Protestants as the latter seek to defend themselves against the expulsions.
Another excellent essay in this section is Teresa Valdivia Dounce’s “Derechos
indígenas y territorialidad: El caso de los guarijíos de Sonora.”
Carefully disentangling the history of this small ethnic group, Valdivia Dounce
describes the long-term relationship between the Guarijíos and their remote
territory on the Chihuahua-Sonora border. She concludes by pointing out how Mexico’s
increasing legal commitment to cultural plurality is undermined by the lack of money
for development programs in indigenous areas and the weakening of historically derived
land rights preserved until recently in ejidos. Essays by Alicia M. Barabas and Scott
S. Robinson cover a variety of issues raised by the building of large hydroelectric
dams and the relocation of indigenous populations. Robinson compares Mexico’s laws with
those of Canada and the U.S., and both essays treat the phenomenon of dispossession and
relocation in a multinational context and suggest that land loss has provoked
persistent protest movements. The question the reader is left with is whether
indigenous communities can develop larger-scale, more organized regional or national
movements with the capacity to effect real change in the current unstable political
The volume ends with Part IV, “Intersecciones de la antropología y el
derecho,” consisting of the commentaries from the conference. Esteban Krotz’s brief
essay, “Ordenes jurídicos, antropología del derechos, utopía:
Elementos para el estudio antropológico de los jurídico” is especially
thoughtful and hints at the need for an ethnography of the social relations and
struggles produced by the intersection of the legal domain with the interest groups
representing elites in Mexican society.
As with many collections, the essays vary in quality but the book overall is a
significant contribution. It achieves the editors’ goal of placing the study of
indigenous customary law in the context of a complicated contemporary world in which
new national and global forces have a strong impact on life within indigenous
communities. The volume will be of greatest relevance to a specialist audience but even
advanced undergraduates interested in law and politics and native peoples of Latin
America will profit from the essays gathered together in Pueblos indígenas ante
The Essential Codex Mendoza. By Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Various pagings. ISBN 0-520-20454-9 (paper).
This work comprises Volumes 2 and 4 of the luxurious four-volume boxed edition of
the Codex Mendoza published in 1992, plus 16 of the 142 folios of the color facsimile
in Volume 3. I have not seen the full multi-volume edition because it has been offered
more as a luxury object than a book, and priced at $400, it is beyond the reach of most
researchers and their university libraries. This custom of publishing Mesoamerican
pictorial documents in needlessly deluxe editions has provoked quite a bit of anger
among serious researchers, and really should stop. The present paperback volume, which
I gather comprises a little over 50% of the text of the deluxe edition (but only 11% of
the more costly color reproductions) is priced at just under $40, which gives the
impression that the University of California Press could have issued all four volumes
at a much more reasonable price.
That having been said, let us turn to the volume under review, which is really a
bargain. The Codex Mendoza, one of the best-known Mexican codices, was drawn for the
Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and intended for the Spanish king, so the picture-writing is
accompanied by handwritten Spanish glosses or explanations, and the whole thing was
bound as a European-style book. It has three major parts. The first, which is quite
brief, is a list of the conquests of each of the kings of Tenochtitlan, from the first,
Acamapichtli, to the last, Moteuczoma Xocoyotzin. The second part, which is probably
the best-known and most often used, is the tribute roll, an account of the tributes
from each of the provinces of the empire. This section has parallels in the
“Matrícula de Tributos,” of which it may be a copy, and a prose document
generally called the “Información de 1554.” The third part is the ethnographic
portion, which describes and illustrates many features of daily life from a life-cycle
The present volume consists of (1) a page-by-page description of the codex, which
formed Volume 2 of the four-volume set; (2) 16 pages of excellent color reproductions
taken from Volume 3; and (3) black-and-white line drawings of each pictorial page,
which the authors call “parallel image replicas” with the glosses in English, and a
transcription and English translation of the prose text, when present. These formed
Volume 4 of the larger set. What has been omitted from the Essential Mendoza are the
eight interpretative essays in Volume 1. Some of these deal with the physical
attributes and history of the codex itself, but others apparently deal with its
ethnographic or historical content. The description of the codex and the parallel image
replicas really have to be read together, so one must keep a finger in the
corresponding page of one while reading the other. Throughout, the authors provide
clear explanations of the figures, glyphs, and iconography, and provide some background
information from other sources. This background information is necessarily rather
brief, and one can quibble about what was included or left out. I intend to do some
quibbling in this review, and make a few additional comments on the codex, but I would
not want these to dissuade anyone from buying the book, because it is, overall, a
magnificent work and an extremely valuable resource for all Mesoamericanists.
The description of the codex is by far the longest part. For anyone not familiar
with Mesoamerican codices, this is an excellent introduction to the way they are read.
Each page is described, the glyphs and pictorial representations are explained, and
background information is provided. Part 1 of the codex, which the authors call “The
History Year to Year,” is rather perfunctory and is possibly the least useful part. It
consists merely of a picture of the ruler seated on his mat, the years of his rule, and
a series of burning temples with name glyphs, which represent conquests, or perhaps
just successful punitive raids.
The long second part of the codex, the tribute rolls, is the best-known part, and
together with the “Matrícula” and the “Información” has served as a data
base for numerous studies of imperial tribute. The pioneer study was by Robert H.
Barlow (1949), who also produced a map of the empire that has served as a standard
until the recent publication of Aztec Imperial Strategies (Berdan et al. 1996). Berdan
and Anawalt follow a format similar to Barlow’s for this section. They list the towns,
the province’s conquest history, its geography, and its tribute, and provide a
schematic map. Each page (and sometimes two) of the codex depicts a tribute “province,”
with the glyphs of the component towns along the side and the tributes and their
quantities filling the bulk of the page. A Spanish text on the page opposite
(transcribed and translated by the authors) provides an explanation.
The first town listed has generally been taken to be the head town, where the head
tribute-collector was stationed and where tributes were collected. Berdan and Anawalt
generally follow this convention, but there are some problems. The second of the
provinces is headed by a glyph depicting a house of mats and the gloss petlacalcatl
gobernador. The name of the “head town” of the province can easily be reconstructed as
“Petlacalco,” and some scholars have fruitlessly searched for such a town. Actually, as
Berdan and Anawalt recognize (p. 35), the term refers to the building in Tenochtitlan
where tributes were kept, and Petlacalcatl was the title of the man in charge of it.
Chalco is another problem. We know from other sources that the four major towns of
Chalco Amaquemecan, Tlalmanalco, Chimalhuacan and Tenanco were brought into the empire
and paid tribute, but the Mendoza lists for this province only five obscure places, and
the only two that can be (tentatively) identified are in northern Morelos and were not
even in pre-Hispanic Chalco. Berdan and Anawalt follow Barlow is selecting Chalco
Atenco, where the present city of Chalco is, as the head town, but on f. 17v, the glyph
that clearly depicts Chalco Atenco is a bit different. I would suggest the first glyph
refers to the province as a whole, not to any specific town. The same is probably true
of Acolhuacan (Hicks 1992). The mysterious folios 17 and 18 get special attention. They
depict 11 Valley of Mexico communities, each governed by a Mexica Tlacateccatl and
Tlacochcalcatl. The authors incline toward the view that the distant towns were
military outposts and the Valley of Mexico communities supplied the military manpower
The authors describe each tributary province more fully than Barlow did, and
incorporate much of the new data that have come to light since Barlow wrote. There are,
however, some gaps. The section on Toluca and Ocuilan provinces could have been
enhanced if they had drawn on the work of Quezada Ramírez (1972), which makes
use of some unpublished archival data. More serious are the omissions in their
discussion of Tepeacac. They rely exclusively on the Relación geográfica
plus the brief, Mexico-centered accounts by Durán and Tezozómoc, and
ignore the far more abundant and detailed sources from the region itself and the
careful analyses of them by Reyes (1977), Martínez (1984) and Dyckerhoff (in
Prem 1978), which give a rather different picture of the Mexica conquest and the way
the province was reorganized and administered under Aztec rule.
In Aztec Imperial Strategies, which resulted from a Dumbarton Oaks symposium in
1986, Smith and Berdan were uncomfortable with Barlow’s practice of extending the
boundaries of provinces far beyond the area covered by the towns actually listed in the
Mendoza. In the present volume, Berdan and Anawalt call attention to the numerous cases
where Barlow unjustifiably extended province borders, and although their maps do not
show any towns not actually listed in the codex, the province boundaries are
essentially the same as Barlow’s. Aztec Imperial Strategies was not published until
1996, four years after the four-volume Mendoza set. The symposium participants,
however, made their point quite strongly in the preliminary reports they presented at
the 1987 AAA meetings, and the bibliography in the volume under review includes works
published as late as 1989, so I was disappointed in not finding any of the work of the
symposium reflected in the Essential Mendoza.
The province maps, though large in size, are sparse in detail. The only features
shown on them are the towns actually listed in the codex. This does give the reader a
clearer picture of what the codex actually tells us, but it makes it harder to
understand the surroundings. For instance, in the discussion of Tlatlauhquitepec (pp.
128-29), there is much useful discussion of the important centers of Tetela and
Misantla, but they are not shown on any map.
The third part of the codex is ethnographic; the authors call it “The Daily Life
Year to Year.” Each page bears a series of pictures with glosses and an explanatory
text opposite. The authors lead us systematically through the figures on each page,
calling attention to details one might easily overlook. The image descriptions are
especially good. Items of clothing, head-dress, artifacts, foods, buildings, ornamental
motifs, glyphs, etc., are all explained. Berdan and Anawalt rely heavily on
Sahagún as a source for the supplemental information they provide, which is
reasonable because there is a good deal of overlap, but there are also differences,
which are not brought out. In an insightful recent paper, Edward Calnek (1988) observes
that while Sahagún’s data came from upper-class informants, the Mendoza presents
the view of respectable middle-class commoners, most likely skilled artisans. In f.
57r, for example, a newborn boy is presented with the implements of artisans, not
agriculture, and as a youth (f. 63r) he does not farm, but transports bulrushes in a
canoe. In f. 70r, fathers instruct sons in crafts, not farming. Indeed, there is not a
bit of agriculture in this section of the Mendoza, but all boys learn the arts of war.
Folio 61r includes a wedding scene. The same wedding ceremony is described in other
sources, but only in the Mendoza is the woman who carries the bride labeled Amanteca,
that is, a feather worker or member of the feather workers’ barrio. This gloss does not
seem to have baffled as many people as I would have thought, but if Calnek is right and
we are dealing with an artisan community, then could it be that a woman of the feather
workers’ community was selected to carry the bride in this instance? If so, why? Berdan
and Anawalt cite Calnek’s article, but I wish they had made greater use of its Index.
(Volume 1 of the deluxe edition does contain an article by Calnek; perhaps it addresses
With regard to the youths’ houses or “schools” described in the folios that begin
with f. 62, Calnek has also pointed out that the Mendoza does not represent the
calmecac as of higher status than the telpochcalli; that comes from Sahagún.
Berdan and Anawalt present folios 61 through 65 as contrasting calmecac with
telpochcalli training, which they clearly do at first, but confusion begins with the
two pictures at the top of f. 64r, in which a “novice priest” and “senior priest” go
together to war, yet they lack the usual priestly symbols. Actually, the term used
consistently in the Mendoza, which Berdan and Anawalt translate as “priest,” is not
sacerdote, as one might expect, but alfaquí. This comes from Arabic Faq_ h,
which in Moslem Spain was a wise man, teacher, or scholar in the Islamic tradition.
This is a tradition in which the boundaries between the sacred and secular are blurred,
and the choice of this word may have been intended to convey just that. The calmecac
did not just prepare one to become a priest; they very likely trained many kinds of
skilled specialists, but were under the direction of priests associated with that
specialty, as Sahagún’s account of the Amanteca suggests.
I have dwelt at disproportionate length on a few of what I see as shortcomings, but
they represent a very small portion of the volume. On the whole, the authors have done
an excellent job of description and analysis, and have made available to researchers
and others a very valuable source on the pre-Conquest history and ethnology of the
region. Those who feel unable to buy the whole set will still need to keep on hand the
1925 black-and-white Paso y Troncoso edition, recently reprinted (Paso y Troncoso
1980). But if the sample of color reproductions in this volume is representative,
they are extraordinarily good.
Barlow, Robert H. 1949. The Extent of the Empire of the Culhua Mexica.
Ibero-Americana 28. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Berdan, Frances F., Richard E. Blanton, Elizabeth Hill Boone, Mary G. Hodge, Michael
E. Smith, and Emily Umberger. 1996. Aztec Imperial Strategies. Washington: Dumbarton
Oaks Research Library and Collection.
Calnek, Edward. 1988. “The Calmecac and Telpochcalli in Pre-Conquest Tenochtitlan.”
In The Work of Bernardino de Sahagún, Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century
Aztec Mexico. Edited by J. Jorge Klor de Alva, H. B. Nicholson, and Eloise
Quiñones Keber, pp. 169-77. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Hicks, Frederic. 1992. “Subject States and Tribute Provinces: The Aztec Empire in
the Northern Valley of Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 3:1-10.
Martínez, Hildeberto. 1984. Tepeaca en el Siglo XVI: Tenencia de la Tierra y
Organización de un Señorío. México: Centro de
Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social.
Paso y Troncoso, Francisco del. 1980. Colección de Mendoza o
Códice Mendocino. México: Editorial Innovación.
Prem, Hanns J., 1978. Milpa y Hacienda: Tenencia de la Tierra Indígena y
Española en la Cuenca del Alto Atoyac, Puebla, Mexico (1520-1650). Wiesbaden:
Franz Steiner Verlag.
Quezada Ramírez, María Noemí. 1972. Los Matlatzincas: Epoca
Prehispánica y Epoca Colonial hasta 1650. México: Instituto Nacional de
Antropología e Historia, Departamento de Investigaciones Históricas.
Reyes García, Luís. 1977. Cuauhtinchan del Siglo XII al XVI:
Formación y Desarrollo Histórico de un Señorío
Prehispánico. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag.
Twin City Tales: A Hermeneutical Reassessment of Tula and Chichén Itzá. By Lindsay Jones. Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 1995. Pp. xii +482. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-87081-403-6.
In Twin City Tales, Lindsay Jones brings the comparative perspective of a background
in religious studies to bear on the controversy surrounding the relationship between
the important sites of Chichén Itzá and Tula. Chichén Itzá
and Tula have been linked through architectural parallels, legends of the migration of
Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl from Tula to the Yucatán, and the enduring preconceived
notions of early Mesoamerican investigators. Jones approaches this problem by first
deconstructing the intellectual antecedents of models of the Tula-Chichén
Itzá relation followed by his own hermeneutical assessment of the religious
priorities of the architecture of the two sites. Jones’ work offers insights into the
benefits that can be gained from a post-processual perspective and into the enormous
pitfalls that can trap a researcher whose philosophical perspective far outreaches his
data and innovation.
The first half of the book is dedicated to the “hermeneutic of suspicion,” which is
normally referred to as a critical review of related literature. Jones focuses his
critique on the theoretical orientation of the Mesoamerican researchers who were
responsible for many of the early and largely dismissed notions of Maya socio-political
organization and pre-Columbian history. The first chapter, entitled “Dramas of
Polarity,” discusses the works of Désiré Charnay, Alfred P. Maudslay,
Sylvanus Morely, J. Eric S. Thompson, and others. The well-taken point of the chapter
is that a cultural schism between Central Mexico and the Maya region was created rather
than discovered; on one hand the Maya represented the epitome of refined civilization
and on the other the Toltecs represented a crude and brutal people who imposed their
values by force upon the Yucatec Maya.
“Insignificant Organization,” the second chapter, continues in a similar and, at
times redundant, vein to the first. In an analysis that generally follows Willey and
Sabloff’s (1980) evolutionary scheme of American archaeology, Jones, referring
specifically to attempts to explain the architectural relationship between
Chichén Itzá and Tula, discusses the weaknesses of studies based on form,
construction technique, chronology, function, physiography, culture, and tradition.
Having used this review of the literature to establish the fact that there are
unresolved issues in our knowledge of the Chichén-Tula relationship, Jones moves
on to the “hermeneutic of recovery” in which he offers a new methodology and
theoretical perspective on the problem.
Chapter 3, “Significant Alternatives,” poses a challenge to even the most tenacious
of readers. It starts as a long diatribe, redundant and loaded with jargon, that pushes
hermeneutics as if it were Dianetics. Lauding the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin
Heidegger, Jones states that, “by the grace of hermeneutics, distant meanings are
brought close, strangeness becomes familiar, and bridges arise between the once and the
now” (p. 187). Jones is aware that his approach is somewhat unorthodox and that “we can
(and should) anticipate considerable resistance” (p. 190). This is perhaps the most
lucid and astute remark in the book. “Significant Alternatives” redeems itself somewhat
as a statement of legitimate methodology in the latter half of the chapter as form is
given to vague theory. Jones clarifies what he means by the “ritual-architectural
event… the human experience of architecture” (p. 196), which is the key to his
hermeneutic methodology. Jones expands on this idea with a system of 11
ritual-architectural priorities. These priorities acknowledge that multiple and complex
motives are involved in the conception and execution of architecture, but that it is
the overall interaction of structures with a population that plays a role in
propagating a socio-political system. Jones divides ritual-architectural priorities
into three categories: (1) Architecture as Orientation; (2) Architecture as
Commemoration; and (3) Architecture as Ritual Context (p. 211). The ensuing description
of each of these priority categories is full of cross-cultural examples but lacking in
illustrations that might have further elucidated his definitions.
In Chapter 4, “Deceptions of Form,” Jones presents what he hopes will be a cathartic
rendering of his take on the architectural homologies between Chichén
Itzá and Tula. Tula Grande is pictured as the heart of an imperial Toltec
hegemony, threatened on all sides by enemy powers and internally from competition
between Nonoalca and Chichimec ethnic groups. Like the Aztecs, the Toltec hegemony
fortified its rule with an architectural strategy that lured people in with familiar
and powerful motifs borrowed from renowned predecessors. From Teotihuacán they
took the feathered serpent image and talud-tablero pyramids, and from El Tajin the ball
court. The colonnaded hall was perhaps an innovation of the Chichimecs, and the
Adatorio platform was a rendition of the household shrine familiar in many parts of
Mesoamerica and particularly at Tula Chico. The display of jaguars and human carnage,
and the processional motif and architecture suggest that displays of royal authority
were meant to catch the attention of the citizenry: “civic Tula announces, snarls, and
panders over and again both its military peerlessness and the dire consequences of
resistance” (p. 333).
The architecture of Chichén Itzá is likewise put into an eclectic
perspective. Jones notes that, while there are differences in the priorities between
south and north Chichén, the motifs are drawn from across Mesoamerica and are
representative of the cosmopolitan nature of Yucatán or Putun warrior-merchants.
The sum of the features of north Chichén’s ceremonial plaza, the sacred cenote,
and the murals of war and compromise are viewed as serving an integrative function.
Jones puts this in context with Clemency Coggins’ theory that the concordance of the
end of a Mexican 52-year calendar round and a Maya nine-baktun cycle of 400 years lead
to a joint New Fire Ceremony observed at Chichén in 830 C.E. In this model, the
Mayas and the Mexicans pool their efforts in order to perpetuate the existence of the
The weaknesses in Jones’ argument are many. In his review of the literature he
briefly discusses Walter Taylor, but as was the case with his entire “hermeneutic of
suspicion,” Jones uses Taylor’s work as a justification for his own perspective but
then generally fails to synthesize and integrate the contributions of his predecessors.
Taylor’s conjunctive approach would have allowed Jones to build a pan-Mesoamerican
context in which to formulate and place his model. He purposefully pays little
attention to chronology and thus makes small mistakes such as suggesting that “the Tula
Toltecs, even at their apex… were facing potentially hostile competition from…
Xochicalco to the southwest, the Tarascans to the west…” (p. 311), but neither of
these cultures is contemporaneous with the Toltec apex. Also, although large migrations
and dynamic states dominated the period between 800 and 1100 C.E., Jones does not
attempt to integrate the Tula-Chichén Itzá relation into the array of new
data on Epiclassic and Early Postclassic interactions. Furthermore, Jones does not try
to substantiate his models beyond single points of epigraphic or architectural
interpretation and thus leaves them in the realm of subjective speculations, not unlike
Charnay. Chichén Itzá is represented as a cultural group that, through
spiritual and calendrical inspirations, matured beyond the petty conflicts that so
plagued other Mesoamerican city-states. Jones’ analysis, however, fails to discuss the
significance of the tzompantli in the central plaza of north Chichén. Jones uses
cross-cultural comparisons as a foundation for his ritual-event priorities and forms
legitimate models of interaction, but materialist archaeology then demands that tests
of these models be devised and pursued with the realization that empirical data provide
the sole method of holding such models to the rigors of science.
This is a large book larger than necessary, because the whole of Jones’ argument
could fit into a single article. The production value of the book is otherwise good,
although some editing errors are evident such as the mislabeling of an aerial
photograph of Chichén as Monte Albán (p. 252). The single-most important
contribution Jones makes with this book is the idea that if we are to fully appreciate
the role an archaeological site played to those who lived, worshiped, and ruled in it,
the site architecture must be viewed as an interactive system rather than as inanimate
and independent structures.
Willey, Gordon R., and J. Sabloff. 1980. A History of American Archaeology. San
Francisco: W.H. Fremont and Co.
Nuestro pesar, nuestra aflicción = Tunetuliniliz, tucucuca: Memorias en lengua náhuatl enviadas a Felipe II por
indígenas del Valle de Guatemala hacia 1572. Edited and introduced by Christopher H. Lutz, transcribed, translated, and with commentary by Karen Dakin. México, D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1996. Pp. cxxii+209. ISBN 968-36-3766-3.
The impact of Nahuas and their language in Guatemala during the colonial period is
little known. This fine collaborative study by Karen Dakin and Christopher Lutz brings
to light not only the official use of Nahuatl by Maya populations in southern
Mesoamerica but its presence there over the course of many centuries. But that is only
part of the reason for this book. Indeed, the primary matter is the 22 memorias, or
letters, authored by natives to Philip II to prevail upon him to intercede and
alleviate the onerous exactions for tribute and labor put upon them by local Spaniards.
Dictated in Maya (probably Cakchiquel and perhaps Quiché) but recorded in
Nahuatl by indigenous escribanos, the memorias are wrenching testimonies of personal
travail, pathos, and, in some cases, despair.
Cabildo officers and other ueuetque from numerous communities on the periphery of
Santiago de Guatemala came together in March and April of 1572 to register their
complaints and enumerate the hardships particular to each of their towns. One account
after the other depicts impending destitution. Maya populations were enslaved in the
1520s when the Spaniards conquered Guatemala. Their emancipation was not realized until
1550 when oidor Lic. Alonso López de Cerrato substituted the repartimiento for
their labor as slaves. Then, for twenty years, in spite of harsh work conditions,
disease, and demographic decline, the natives’ obligations to the Crown seemed
manageable. They also enjoyed support from the Franciscans and Dominicans as well as a
benevolent former president of the Audiencia, Lic. Francisco Brizeño, to whom
they referred from time to time in their letters.
But a crisis was provoked in 1570 by oidor Lic. Valdés de Cárcamo and
his entourage who traveled from town to town in order to conduct a census of the local
populations and impose additional requirements for labor and tribute. Under oath,
indigenous officials were forced to identify every man, woman, and child in their
communities including those who were blind, deaf, crippled, infirm, widowed, aged, and
very young and make certain that each participated in the tequio, “tribute
obligations,” and all other chores imposed by the Spaniards. Even the dead and those
who fled were counted, along with sacristans and cantors. When the alcaldes failed to
meet requirements, they were imprisoned, fined, whipped, and spoken to in a disgusting
manner. Most egregious, doubtless, was the sale of each town’s orphaned children to the
Spaniards. Such atrocities compromised the integrity of the community and bankrupted
its caja when the Indians ransomed their children. Another indignity was that the
towns’ tlatoque (who most often were referred to as ueuetque along with their Spanish
government titles) had to work on the aqueducts, canals, and farms, pan for gold and
silver, and sweep streets just like everyone else and without compensation. Upon
reading the natives’ stories, what must Philip have thought when he compared their
tragic state to the dignity and prosperity of the four highland Maya nobles whom he had
entertained at court while regent barely a generation earlier?
Yet most telling in the memorias is the enduring concept of community and the
elders’ sense of responsibility for both pipiltin and macehualtin. But with
Valdés’s outrageous demands, the communities’ survival was in jeopardy: “Ahora
lloran mucho por tristeza” (p. 65). Also remarkable is that in spite of years of
resettlement and slavery some Mayas still claimed rank and title that traced back to
early royal lineages. Other groups asserted the exemptions and privileges granted to
them as Alvarado’s Nahua allies in the conquest of Guatemala. In his introduction, Lutz
considers the wealth of information in the microhistory of the memorias as Guatemalan
indigenous history writ large, with entrenched patterns of racism and abuse in the
colonial era setting precedents for the attitudes and practices of modern times.
Following presentation of the facsimile and the careful transcription and Spanish
translation of the memorias, Dakin categorizes and analyzes key Nahuatl and
borrowed-Spanish terms. Thematically organized and with concordance to the documents,
she demonstrates the linguistic impact on native culture of some fifty years of
colonization. As expected, the Spanish loan words mostly represent names and other
nouns. Occasionally, however, there is a compound of the two languages, as in
yndiotlacatl, or a uniquely indigenous term when we would expect one in Spanish, e.g.,
tlapialli for guardianía or teopantlacatl for sacristán, suggesting the
carryover from the pre-Hispanic period of similar temple-related offices. The lexicon
is a useful tool to measure change in indigenous perceptions and linguistic style in a
Dakin completes her study with an analysis of the form of Nahuatl that was employed
by the escribanos as they recorded the complaints of the various guatemalteco (and
utatleco) groups. She suggests three possibilities, which include: (1) the dialect of
Pipil speakers who invaded and settled part of the region many years earlier; (2) the
lingua franca Nahuatl of central Mesoamerica used by pochteca in their trade corridor,
possibly tracing to Teotihuacan; or (3) the classical Nahuatl of the Conquest and early
colonial era, as we know it from the reference works of Fray Alonso de Molina and
Father Horacio Carochi. This last form was introduced by the Tlaxcalteca, Xochimilca,
and other Nahua allies of Alvarado, who helped conquer the region and were rewarded
with territories and special rights. The result, if it was not already the case, was a
sort of bilingualism that was codified in 1570 when Philip II mandated that Nahuatl was
to serve as the official language for communication.
Further, Dakin has identified certain Nahuatl sociolinguistic characteristics that
are conspicuous in the memorias. For just three examples, she notes the misuse of t or
d for the absolutive ending, tl; the absence of the suffix -que on plural verbs; and
the retention of the absolutive ending on possessed nouns, tualtebetl. Acknowledging
the likelihood of some Cakchiquel influence, still Dakin argues that the escribanos did
not know Nahuatl well. To locate the Nahuatl, she samples and compares that of the
escribanos with (1) classical Nahuatl; (2) the dialects of Mecayapan, Veracruz; (3)
Pipil of Izalco; (4) 17th-century Pipil; and (5) that of the pochteca (based on Franz
Boas’s work). Dakin convincingly concludes, all things considered (and there is much
impressive evidence that is brought to bear here), that the escribanos’ lingua franca
harks back to an archaic Nahuatl surely introduced by pochteca during the pre-Conquest
era. Dakin tantalizes and calls for similar comparative research methodologies as
scholars take on analyses of an expanding corpus of indigenous texts in
The memorias of 1572 were neither the first nor the last time that Mayas would speak
out against “nuestro pesar.” Both Dakin and Lutz champion the Maya voice of the past
and the present, and they anticipate that it will continue to resound as Mayas learn
more about their history through studies such as theirs.
Historia de los pueblos indígenas de México. By Felipe Castro. México, D.F.: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 1996. ISBN 968-496-310-6.
This is the fourth book published in a thematic series that focuses on indigenous
groups of Mexico, with an emphasis on native resistance during the Colonial period.
Felipe Castro’s work is an attempt to equalize the historical playing field by
elevating indigenous forms of resistance (physical, social, and religious) from a
reactionary view to a dynamic one involving a plethora of strategies. He calls the
previous stages of research “institutional historiography” and asserts that it
concentrated on the chronicles and cites the new phase as one that entails systematic
research that is expanded to include parochial and municipal archives, as well as
European archives. According to Castro, this emphasis on culling data from a variety of
sources, from the local to a global level, will give a better perspective on how
indigenes maintained a semblance of their physical, social, and religious space. While
this micro-level research has been the forte of anthropological investigations, it is
refreshing to see historians including it in their research designs.
Castro notes on more than one occasion that indigenous resistance is a “multiform
history” and the physical confrontations are merely the most sensational and the most
spectacular aspect. His objective is to present a global perspective on indigenous
forms of resistance by examining comparative causes, conditions, ideas, and results.
However, there is an inherent flaw in this approach that Castro himself points out,
i.e., the disparate body of known data varies throughout the country and even within
regions. Thus, many of his case studies highlight northern Mexico, including much of
the area annexed by the United States in the mid-1800s, with some mention of central
Mexico and the Yucatan area. I am not entirely convinced by this assertation as
numerous anthropological case studies have been published that directly or indirectly
highlight indigenous resistance during the colonial period. I believe that some
cross-discipline dialogue with his anthropological counterparts would have aided
Castro’s objective to examine comparative causes with a greater array of data.
Nevertheless, Castro’s work demonstrates a firm understanding of the variegated forces
at play during the colonial period, as well as an understanding of the multiple forms
of resistance chosen by the indigenes.
The book is divided into seven chapters with an appendix of nine period documents
that describe rebellions from the Spanish and Indian points of view. Chapter 1 is a
description of the causes of the subsequent rebellions, i.e., a system founded on total
exploitation of the land and labor within New Spain, whose institutions were created to
perpetuate their distance from the indigenes from their labor to their consciences.
Castro points out that every tier within the system from landowner to the clergy was
geared towards maintaining the indigenes in an inferior position. His example of the
multiple taxes imposed simultaneously, while itself not adding new data, is
particularly stupefying as one reads of tax after tax imposed on the head of the
family. The cumulative effect of personal taxes, service taxes, agricultural taxes, and
religious taxes, coupled with a host of potential fines for any number of suspected
transgressions, resulted in the enslavement of the indigenes, both in a real and a
figurative sense. In many instances the only alternatives were either flight or fight
and both occurred regularly throughout the colonial period. Castro cites examples of
rebellions resulting from the constant shrinkage of physical, social, and religious
space within indigenous communities.
Chapter 2 focuses on the forms of resistance, excluding physical confrontation.
Castro views the indigenous response to increasing Spanish encroachment and control of
the land and the people as an arc with obedience at one end, violent resistence at the
other end, and the various forms of resistence stretching in between these points.
Because we know that Spanish penetration in New Spain was not uniform across time and
space, we would not expect a common indigenous response. The key to conducting
comparative analyses lies in understanding both the micro and macro simultaneously and
this is what makes Castro’s work so rich in detail. He points out that flight into
remote regions was the simplest and most direct response available, however, this was
not always a viable alternative for every ethnic group. As a result, resistence took on
many forms, e.g., refusal to grow European crops, maintaining minimal contact with
Spanish authorities, paying lip service to their decrees and demands, involvement in
the legal system, and/or resorting to banditry.
Chapter 3 highlights intraethnic and interethnic mobilization to confront the
colonial order. Much is made of the long-standing historical tradition of speech makers
(known as taltoles) in the north and the respect they garnered from the community. Many
used this platform to rally the masses in open revolt. Examples are given of coded
messages being sent throughout northern Mexico and actual use of the postal service to
send messages detailing the time and place for a planned revolt. Most rebellions after
the Conquest were not direct confrontations, but ones that utilized the natural
features of the land to fight guerrilla style or to employ surprise attacks on
unsuspecting towns. Castro asserts that interethnic mobilization was possible because
all indigenes despised colonial domination and were united by their desire to find a
place in the work order that would allow them to live with dignity and respect.
However, it was the different views of the dominant society and the minorities as to
what should constitute the world order that doomed the indigenes to an unattainable
vision of their place in society.
Chapters 4 and 5 deal with leaders and ideas of rebellion, respectively. Initially,
leadership came from the ranks of the Indian nobility, but they lost their privileged
positions as they were replaced by subjects more loyal to the Spaniards. Thus, new
leaders often sprang from the ranks of the sacerdotes and hechiceros, who maintained
respect within their communities. Messiah movements also produced leaders willing to
mobilize the populace and agitate for a return to a time before the Spanish incursion.
However, the Conquest was an irreversible phenomenon and over time the indigenes sought
ways to adjust to the penetration of the colonial system into their lives. As they
modified their social relations in order to acquire more participation within the
system, they never achieved equal participation and had to settle for the subtle and
small changes they could bring about through perseverance and patience. As Castro says
so eloquently, “The progressive acculturation of the Indian is also the acculturation
of protest” (reviewer’s translation).
Chapters 6 and 7 pertain to the reaction of the Spaniards to the rebellions and what
indigenous rebellions meant to the evolution of society. Spanish reaction was often of
the scorched-earth policy, i.e., campaigns of terror that wreaked havoc in indigenous
communities. Enslavement was not uncommon nor were forced migrations, often to other
countries. While their rebellions were doomed to failure, some concessions were made to
the indigenous situation, e.g., there was more vigilance by the central government over
local affairs, tribute was often lessened, and some autonomy granted. It is clear that
the colonial government understood that the system could not operate effectively in a
state of constant turmoil and, when it was in its best interests, would resolve issues
This book is a scholarly work that deserves to be read by a wide audience, but that
will be difficult given that only 2,000 copies were printed. I also believe that Castro
should have used examples of rebellions from throughout the county and not from merely
a few areas in order to understand better indigenous response to the colonial system.
The text is full of captioned pictures and excerpts pertaining to the theme of each
chapter, but there are too many and they distract the reader. They may have been better
placed at the end of each chapter. While they are informative additions to the text,
the numerous pictures remind me of the serial comic books so widely read in Mexico.
Nonetheless, the book is well worth reading.